Kathleen Wheeler reviews Flowers from Iraq: The Storyteller and the Healer by Sunny Alexander



‘Flowers’ is at once riveting, heartbreaking, uplifting and cathartic.  While I can’t say, ‘Oh my God, she’s writing about me,’ to the specifics that these women go through as the story progresses, there is a human element that is wonderfully portrayed and very easily relatable on a deep level (for me, at least).  Sunny Alexander has created a beautiful story of love, compassion, fear, determination, perseverance, and emotional growth; it’s more than just a story of survival, but of the human spirit and I found myself drawn into the written world and connecting with her characters on a primal plane.  We all have that scared little girl living within our hearts, the one we are trying to protect from the harshness in the world, even if the reasons and means differ from those that main character Kathleen Moore faced in her life.

The issues Ms. Alexander tackles in ‘Flowers’ are heavy and all too real for far too many, not just women and not just Americans and certainly not just soldiers.  She addresses these issues not only with sensitivity, but with a directness and a rawness that speaks to her years of experience as a psychoanalyst and as a human being.   Issues like abandonment, childhood abuse, PTSD, identity and self acceptance, sexuality, the closet, connecting with others….the list goes on and rather than making this some sort of strange dissertation on abnormal psychology, I find that these are the things that make her characters real.  They are people, with lives and pasts and hearts and minds and problems and struggles and triumphs and all the rest- fleshed out in a way that ultimately makes them more human.  Yes, there is a heavy element of therapy within the pages, but I don’t view that as a bad thing.  We could all use someone to talk to from time to time, someone to help us see ourselves, help us grow.  There’s nothing wrong with that, and it takes a certain strength to be able to say, ‘I need help with this.’

A few of you might find the writing style a bit stilted in places, or that the descriptions are too descriptive and the pacing a bit too slow overall.  Admittedly, I found myself checking the number of pages and my progress and wondering at times if things were going to ever happen – but just when I thought I might explode with anticipation BOOM! It happens.  And it happens in a way that made me smile and made me think.  In fact, Ms. Alexander has a way of manipulating time that I quite enjoyed overall.  I felt like I read a book 2 or 3 times as long as it actually was and I was still sad when it ended (because it ended, not because of how it ends).  She packs so much information into the space of an average length book that it felt like I actually read something, you know? It was meaty- meaty in a way that really draws you in and makes the places and people and things that happen real in a way that sticks.

It was also refreshing to discover that this is not a book about the politics of war, which I had thought might be the case when it first came out, and is what prevented me from reading it sooner.  In fact, there isn’t anything political at all really within these pages.  There is war, which is simply a matter of fact and a huge part of Kathleen’s experience in life, but whether that war is right or wrong is left to the reader.  There is no political agenda (at least not in an overt way).  I left this with the reinforced belief that war is the wrong way, but not because the author told me so.  This is something I applaud Ms. Alexander for.  It would have been so easy for her to go there, and she didn’t- instead she stayed true to the heart of this story and in doing so, I believe, does a real service to the men and women of the armed forces who have seen the things we can’t imagine.

I would have liked to get more development from the Claire character, but I realize this was more a book about Kathleen and her personal journey than anything else.  For this purpose, Claire is exactly as she needs to be- and knowing there’s a sequel on the way gives me hope that I will come to know and understand Claire as deeply as I do Kathleen.

I look forward to everything Ms. Alexander writes from this point on; if we improve with experience, her second and third and so on promise to be absolutely amazing.

Review by Kathleen Wheeler, author of Changing Shape.

2 Replies to “Kathleen Wheeler reviews Flowers from Iraq: The Storyteller and the Healer by Sunny Alexander”

  1. Kay Stigleman

    First……what Kieran said!! Second, Sunny Alexander deserves every accolade given for “Flowers from Iraq”! As Sunny’s biggest fan, I thank you for this fantastic blog review. Well said, Kat!!